Twins-Rangers Preview

Despite an ugly seven-game road trip, the Texas Rangers return

to Arlington having lost just one-half game of their sizable

division lead.

The Minnesota Twins would prefer to build on their cushion.

The Twins’ stellar play versus the AL West should give them a

good chance as they embark on their own seven-game trip, which

begins with the first of four Monday night against a Texas team

they’ve already swept.

The Rangers (69-54) arrived in Tampa on Aug. 16 with an 8

1/2-game lead on the Angels, and they’re still up by eight even

after a trip Ron Washington’s club would soon like to forget. Texas

was swept by the Rays, then dropped two of its first three games in

Baltimore.

Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero made sure it would salvage

Sunday’s finale. Hamilton hit a three-run homer in the first inning

and Guerrero followed with a three-run shot in the fifth to lift

the Rangers to a 6-4 win.

“It’s nice to see those two guys come through. That’s what we

needed,” Washington said. “Any time you can get a win it’s good,

especially this one because we’ve got to fly. We can fly having

fun, and it’s nice to hear the music in the clubhouse.”

Texas’ lead is the largest division gap in the majors, and it’s

about to get a look at a potential playoff opponent with the Twins

(72-52) coming to town.

Minnesota led the White Sox by one at the beginning of its

nine-game homestand, but is in a much more comfortable spot as it

heads to Texas and Seattle. The Twins capped a 7-2 stretch by

beating ace Jered Weaver and the Angels 4-0 on Sunday.

“It doesn’t matter who we play. If it’s Texas, Kansas City,

Baltimore, whoever, they’re all big games right now,” said first

baseman Michael Cuddyer, who drove in three with his fifth-inning

double.

Minnesota hasn’t lost a road series in the second half, and has

a great chance to extend that run this week. The Twins are 17-6

against the West, including a three-game sweep of the Rangers from

May 28-30.

Winning Monday’s opener may be difficult, however. Nick

Blackburn (7-7, 6.66 ERA) makes his first appearance in the majors

in a month after being called up to replace the injured Kevin

Slowey.

Blackburn went 1-4 with a 10.92 ERA in his last seven games –

six starts – before being sent to the minors July 30.

He’s 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in two starts against the Rangers, whom

he hasn’t faced since 2008. Blackburn has surrendered 13 homers in

43 1-3 road innings this season, allowing opponents to hit .401

overall.

Even if Blackburn struggles in his return, there’s no telling

what Rich Harden (4-4, 5.45) will give Texas in his first start

since Aug. 7. Harden lasted only 2 1-3 innings in that 6-2 loss at

Oakland before hitting the disabled list with right shoulder

tendinitis.

“I’ve been looking forward to getting back out there,” Harden

said after allowing an unearned run over six innings and striking

out 10 for Triple-A Oklahoma City on Wednesday. “I felt good in the

last start. I’m ready to go.”

Harden is 1-1 with a 2.30 ERA in five starts versus Minnesota,

though only one has been since 2006. Joe Mauer is 2 for 11 with a

homer against Harden.